Michael Bisping (left) file photo: Dave Mandel | Sherdog.com
My well known dislike for overhyped main events gets along famously with UFC 120 “Bisping vs. Akiyama” on Saturday at the O2 Arena in London. Unless one can alter the fabric of the space-time continuum, the show airs via tape delay on Spike TV.
Now back to more pressing matters. No glitzy headliner will be found here, but there are five world-class main card fights over which to gnaw your nails in anticipation.
Michael Bisping vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama
The UFC’s middleweight title race has become a bizarre drama to follow. Anderson Silva’s uneven but dominant reign has reached the point where sustained greatness no longer serves as a prerequisite for title contention. Just slap together a few wins against some high-profile opponents and a contender can find himself more than halfway there.
That brings us to Bisping and Akiyama -- two quality fighters with spotty in-cage histories that the UFC would still love to capitalize on thanks to the following they have in their respective homelands. The winner will undoubtedly be put on a track towards title contention, and the outcome depends almost entirely on Akiyama’s ability to show up for a three-round fight. His cardiovascular shortcomings have come to define his Octagon career thus far, and this particular match does not appear to be one he can win in short order.
In many ways, Bisping seems like the worst kind of opponent for the judoka. Standing, the verbose Englishman may not have much in the way of knockout power, but he gamely makes up for it with his volume and accuracy. Those skills are heightened by his smooth footwork and overall defensive skills, which are likely to be his best friends against Akiyama.
A fine striker in his own right, Akiyama has been held back by his footwork and the stark size disadvantage he faces against most any middleweight. When he does have an opponent who will get inside his range, he flashes nice counterpunching skills and an uncommon ability to roll with punches. However, trench wars are not Bisping’s game, and Akiyama seems unlikely to force him into one.
No one is more aware of Bisping’s deficiencies than Bisping himself, and his style is built around minimizing them. Of late, he has made a greater commitment to stepping into his punches, which used to be what made his elusive style somewhat ineffective since opponents often realized they had little to fear in giving chase. For all his faults, “The Count” has excellent cage generalship, and by putting an extra bit of power into his punches, he has become a far more effective fighter on offense.
The temptation here might be to assume that Akiyama circumvents these issues by falling back on his judo, but that disregards Bisping’s underrated wrestling. Besides having fundamentally sound takedown defense, his greatest asset remains his ability to escape back to the feet once he gets taken down. Few fighters control the head while clearing their hips as well as Bisping, and he uses the cage for leverage as well as anyone else in the sport.
Even if Akiyama can consistently score takedowns, he will put more effort into them than they are worth, given the likelihood of Bisping escaping to his feet. If “Sexyama” could sustain his pace for three rounds, it might be a different story. Past history tells us he cannot. A fresh Akiyama can exchange with Bisping on even terms, but once his conditioning wanes, his effectiveness goes with it.
The early going will be interesting just to see if Bisping continues committing to his punches the way he did against Dan Miller. That version of the Wolfslair Academy product makes for an entertaining style clash against Akiyama’s fluidity in exchanges. Unfortunately, the style clash will not last long, as Bisping will run away with this fight late en route to a decision win.